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September 11, 2000
German cobbles down at heel starsPaul Majendie
Herbert Kokot has been down at heel for 30 years -- and he loves every minute of it.
For he is a cobbler to the stars, helping great champions like Ed Moses to gain the extra one 1,000th of a second that could make the difference between Olympic gold and silver.
Sitting in front of a workbench in his custom-made van with sewing machine at the ready and shelves stacked with insoles, Kokot works day and night to ensure the shoes really do fit like a glove.
He rarely has time to see his champions go for glory.
Kokot, a very shy and introverted figure who has worked for the German shoe manufacturer Adidas at eight Olympics, said: "I feel so pleased and happy when they win."
"But I don't get to see much," he said, sitting in his van at the company's Olympic headquarters housed in a school with a superb view overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
With about 4,000 athletes using Adidas shoes at the Sydney Games, Kokot certainly has his work cut out.
"Athletes are very superstitious. They never want to part with a pair of running shoes."
So repairs are vital to give an extra edge: "The best athletes always have a clear view of what they want and are very happy when they get it."
Kokot, 60, is super fit himself and looks 10 years younger than he is. "I have just bought a very good trekking bike and I do 60 to 70 kilometres three times a week."
"I am certainly not superstitious. I try out every new model of our shoes," he said.
Kokot has certainly lived some dramatic moments in Olympic history.
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, he was in the athletes' village when Palestinian extremists attacked Israeli athletes. He watched as the world held its breath. "The atmosphere was very bad. It was dreadful," he said.
"At the last Olympics in Atlanta the bomb went off in Olympic Park just 200 metres from where I was. We were not allowed out of the building for two days. We had the FBI standing guard outside."
Technology has improved the running shoe beyond all recognition since he started in 1970. He believes that men and women can still run even faster due to a combination of improved technique, training and material.
After Atlanta, Adidas rethought how it designed running shoes with a radical four-year programme designed to give sprint stars like Donovan Bailey and Ato Boldon a lightning boost.
It came up with a shoe that did away with the traditional six spikes that dug in to synthetic surfaces and therefore, like a nail, had to be pulled out again. Now the new shoe has four Z-shaped blades that grip and don't dig in.
Adidas also looked at the fleet-footed cheetah to see how humans could move faster. It came up with carbon fibre soles that mimic the majestic animal's superb action with stiff toe joints and heels that barely touch the ground.
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